Covent Garden is where you take your aunt Gladys when she’s visiting, right?
Yeah. But actually, there are plenty of excellent places to eat in Covent Garden these days. Sure, there are still way too many tourists, and yes, the ligaments in your eyes may seize up from all the eye rolls you perform on your way to dinner. But be strong. It’s worth it - you just have to know where to look.
You bring someone to Barrafina when you want to pretend that you’re more successful than you actually are (so for us, all the time), and to experience some of the best tapas outside of Spain. This particular Barrafina is arguably the best of the lot, in no small part due to the views you’ll get over one of the prettiest streets in Covent Garden, as well as a curved bar that gives each diner not just a view of the kitchen, but of each other. Sure, the food’s pricey but it’s worth it, and though there’s always a wait, there are definitely worse things in life than hanging out with a glass of cava and a plate of ham. Their other restaurant on Drury Lane, a few minutes walk away, is also very good and has a crab slider that is a must-order.
If you’re not already a convert, The Barbary will make you understand why eating at the bar can be a blast. All of the restaurant’s seats are at a counter surrounding an open kitchen and bar, and this place, from the same people behind The Palomar [link], gets everything right, from the upbeat atmosphere and incredible Middle Eastern-meets-North African food, to the service and sleek decor. It opens at 5, so get there before 6 if you want to avoid a wait, and don’t bring more than a couple of friends, as it gets loud and no one wants to be the poor bastard in the middle who gets screamed over.
J Sheekey’s known for being a late-night hangout for movie and theatre types, which makes sense since it’s in the middle of the West End. It’s also known for being one of the classiest places to get a seafood dinner, and we like to come to sip champagne and eat oysters while pretending that we’ve just sold a script to a big film studio (The 10th Fast and the Furious film, but still). Prices for things like lobster are predictably high, but their legendary fish pie will cost you less than twenty quid - surprisingly reasonable for a place like this. It’s perfect for impressing out-of-towners or for a low-key special meal.
Chicks ‘n’ Sours’ was one of a kind. Now it’s two of a kind.The original in Haggerston won us over with its original take on fried chicken: good birds served either with simple seasonings or with Asian flavours, and brilliant cocktails to boot. Their Covent Garden restaurant has a moodily lit basement and a slightly different menu, but the approach is identical, except now you can bring your entire crew for a slap-up chicken dinner without having to squeeze into a booth the size of your mum’s Renault Clio.
Native takes every fear you’ve ever had about restaurants that call themselves ‘creative’ and dumps those fears in a flaming dumpster with some of the most interesting and delicious food we’ve eaten in ages. Here, their shtick is foraged and wild food - you won’t have a bloody clue what’s going on with the menu but trust them and order everything, as it’ll all taste incredible. The £25 lunchtime set menu is a bargain for cooking this good, and although the dining room itself is located in a slightly odd basement room with no signal, it’s a nice and cosy space.
Hawksmoor has the reputation as being the best place to get a steak in London, and we agree. It backs up the claim with brilliant food - all the meat is sourced from the UK, and each steak is cooked to perfection. The Seven Dials location, in particular, is a huge basement room filled with the sounds of people eating red meat and having a good time. Besides beef, Hawksmoor does very good seafood (get the scallops), and the bar at this branch is excellent and reason enough to visit on its own - it’s excellent if you just want a sandwich and a cocktail. The French dip will sort you out.
It’s not hard to find pizza in central London, but you’ll have to look a little harder for anything resembling ‘great’ pizza. The reward for your persistence is Homeslice, which does tasty thin-crust pies with super fresh toppings that range from something your imaginary Italian nonna would be proud of to more adventurous ingredients like venison. There’s prosecco and Camden Hells on tap, so you know you’re going to have a good time, and though the pizzas aren’t cheap at £20, they’re the size of a small child so you can easily split one between a couple of you. It’s a good spot for a casual hang, as well as takeaway, as they sell by the slice too.
We could summarise this entry as ‘there is a Dishoom in Covent Garden’ and leave it at that, but in case you need a quick refresher, Dishoom is a trendy but still authentic Indian restaurant with several locations around town. This one’s the original, and it’s also one of the smallest - the queues can be awful, even by Dishoom standards, so keep a backup handy. As for ordering, go for the bhel puri (mixed crunchy things like puffed rice covered in light yoghurt and a tangy sauce), the street food classic pau bhaji (spicy veg mish mash spread over hot buttered buns), and the lamb chops.
It’s usually a good sign when you see a bunch of students from Hong Kong and Japan waiting outside a noodle shop, even on those frigid London days. Not because it fills you with pride to see foreign students getting into the national pastime of queueing, but because it means the food inside is good. You come here for the ramen - we’d go as far to say that it’s the best in London, and with the totally reasonable prices (just over a tenner for the basic bowl of noodles) it’s a good deal. There’s not a whole lot for vegetarians, so don’t bring any, and it’s a casual, no-reservations spot so don’t expect to linger. But do expect to leave happy.
London has more sceney restaurants than it has junior doctors, but The Ivy Is probably the best known, especially if you read The Daily Mail. The people watching and posh vibes are definitely part of the appeal of coming here, but we’ve also never had a bad meal at The Ivy. They’ve added “pan-Asian” to the menu, God help us, but the shepherd’s pie and mutton curry won’t disappoint. It’s Perfect For a glam date or a special meal, but if you want something more casual, its sibling restaurant the Ivy Market Grill is just a few minutes away.
Let’s say you and your crew find yourself wandering through Covent Garden and just want a full-on hamburger splurge, but in a place where you can sit down nicely and maybe grab a craft beer and some wings too. Meat Market, from the same guys who opened Meat Liquor near Oxford Street all those years ago, has the same filthy burgers, hot dogs and buffalo wings, but in a more casual atmosphere where you can actually hear each other talk. It’s a little hard to find, but the slightly obscure location off the main square is part of the appeal.
Imagine a space similar in size to your local coffee shop, and now imagine that it has food that could put most smart restaurants to shame, along with the service to match. That’s Jar Kitchen. The food’s British with influences from across Europe, but it’s always good and most enticingly, super reasonable as well - most mains are well under £15. It’s not the biggest dining room, so it can feel cramped or snug (depending on your point of view) when it gets busy in the evening. Perfect for casual get togethers or low-key dinners where you want classy food without paying through your nose.
Timberyard near Seven Dials is your friend when the sh*t is close to hitting the fan. It’s a coffee shop with fast wi-fi, tons of room to sit with your laptop and plentiful power points. There’s also coffee - very good coffee, and you’ll be given an egg timer when you order a simple builder’s tea, because modernity. There’s stuff your head wants you to eat (avocado, kale, salads) but also things your heart wants too (almond croissants, cheese toasties) while you pretend to work on your laptop.
Compared to other ramen restaurants, Ippudo has the advantage of a very cool-looking dining room, a much larger menu, and the ability to seat reasonably large groups of people. In other words, it’s perfect for when there are a few of you hankering after some noodles, but you want to make an evening of it without being shoehorned around a tiny table like you would be at Bone Daddies or Kanada-Ya. The noodles are good, and they have things like dumplings and pork buns on the menu as well as options for non-meat eaters. It’s still no bookings, but at least the waits are shorter and there’s an area inside for you to sit and have a beer.
Sometimes you just want to settle down in a pretty dining room with people you like, and eat steak frites with a bottle of good wine. There are few places better to do this in London than the Delaunay, which is a perfect storm of everything you love about eating out - from the decor and service to the food and atmosphere, it’s a class act. If you’re feeling really minted, it’s also great for drop-ins, a drink or even breakfast, and it has a take-out counter for coffee and very good pastries.
Covent Garden can be a total f*cking maze, but there are plenty of places to hide away from the crowds. Bageriet, a tiny and stylish Swedish bakery, is just off Long Acre but it feels like you’re on a different planet altogether - one where cake is served for meal and there’s an invisible wall that keeps tourists out. The coffees are good and they take their baking seriously: they have the best cinnamon buns in town. It’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or an eye opener at breakfast.